Minister rules out return of XPT
By RACHEL SCOLLAY
STATE Transport Minister John Watkins yesterday announced a $1.1 million upgrade of the Casino Bus Interchange, but refused to introduce a rail commuter service to Murwillumbah.
Up to 100 angry train supporters greeted him at the Murwillumbah rail station.
He listened as predominantly elderly people told him of their dissatisfaction with the CountryLink bus services and why they wanted the train back.
Karin Kolbe left her Suffolk Park home at 5.30am yesterday to be ready to greet Mr Watkins.
When Mr Watkins' bus arrived and he stopped to say 'gidday' she was cautiously optimistic.
However, her hopes were dashed upon hearing the Minister's announcement of a $1.1 million Casino Bus Interchange upgrade.
"He came to talk, but he's already made up his mind," she said.
"He said he wanted to keep the line open, but all he wants to do is put on buses."
Mr Watkins announced he would reconvene the Rail Corridor Working Party to look at the possibility of using the line for freight in the future, as well as investigating poten- tial connections with Queensland services should the State extend its rail lines south.
Mr Watkins said neither the Casino to Murwillumbah XPT nor a commuter service were viable.
"I know this decision has caused a lot of angst for local people, but it's been forced on us by the Federal Government when they ripped $360 million out of our budget," he said.
Mr Watkins said the Casino to Murwillumbah line needed $188 million spent on it over 20 years for upgrading and maintenance, which was not fiscally possible as financial returns from carrying passengers were too low.
He said only eight per cent of passengers were paying full fare.